Shakedown Hawaii

A game by VBlank Entertainment for PC, PS4, Vita, Switch, and 3DS, originally released in 2019.
Shakedown Hawaii is the follow-up to Retro City Rampage, which was an open world actioner with NES-era visuals that was heavily influenced by the top-down entries in the Grand Theft Auto series, with loads of references to the 1980’s. Shakedown Hawaii ups the visual fidelity to the SNES era while offering a larger open world experience set in modern day, but without the extensive pop culture references… but plenty of references to outdated 80’s technology used by the primary protagonist who claims every new technology to be a fad. The game also features a heavy focus on economics to help the player rise from the ranks of washed-up businessman to Hawaii's top mogul.


You take on the role of three individuals who embark on a coordinated crime spree across Hawaii, roughing up business owners, stealing cars, profiteering, manipulating real estate prices, and pretty much any crime they can think of to scrape their way to the top. The game offers more than 100 missions, hundreds of properties and businesses to purchase, and a number of score-based challenges (in GTA terms, think rampages) where you rack up kills and deliver destruction to earn medals.


The world map is large, and like any open world game worth its salt, you are free to run around and do whatever you like outside of the story missions, which includes bashing people’s brains in, shooting whomever you like, stealing cars, and inevitably running from the cops. The world is bright and colorful, and virtually every object is destructible, allowing you to rip through the scenery with guns or vehicles, knocking down walls, smashing open crates, and knocking the fronds off palm trees.


Since your business – Feeble Multinational – is on the verge of bankruptcy, you don’t have much in the way of free cash, so one of the best ways to earn money in the early going is to perform shakedowns. This is done by entering various businesses and demanding that the shopkeepers pay you protection money… protection from you destroying their stores, per mafia conventions. Once you’ve done this, the store becomes available for purchase if you like, and if you purchase every business of a certain type, you gain a monopoly that doubles your revenue on those properties.


In a nice touch, there are lots of ways shakedowns can play out (which is good given that there are more than 80 of them). Sometimes you can just smash up some of the store’s merchandise or fixtures to get the shopkeeper to come around, or you can stare down their customers to run them out of the store, or maybe fire up that go-kart over there and… you get the idea. But sometimes the shopkeepers fight back, either taking you on with a behind-the-counter shotgun, calling in their gang member friends, or even phoning the police, in which case you have to fight your way out. A couple of them can even open a trap door in the floor, dropping you below and forcing you to swim through the sewers to return to the surface.


The game’s primary protagonist is the CEO of a company that was successful in the early 80’s, but which hasn’t grown with the times. As such, its retail stores are being beaten out by online ordering, taxis are falling to ride sharing, and video stores are, uh… going the way of Blockbuster, as expected. Story missions involve quick fixes to earn money, such as filming a commercial, swapping labels or ingredients in your food products, or sabotaging the efforts of your competitors by destroying their facilities and delivery trucks.


You also interact with your spikey-haired son – another playable character – who understands modern technology far more than his luddite father. He tries to help out, even if his father never really understands what he’s talking about, so that he can keep buying designer clothes and earning cred as a rapper. Along the way, your financial advisor warns against committing crimes, but ultimately goes along with your plans to bring money into the company; a developer offers lots of underhanded advice for taking advantage of the real estate market; and a South American “consultant” (also playable) helps you do the dirty work of blasting through ruffians to acquire new products There are loads of colorful characters to interact with throughout the experience.


Much of the storyline focuses on the ways in which people get screwed over by those in power, with plenty of parallels to the real world. In order to get ahead, you’ll need to take part in these same underhanded schemes by exploiting the less fortunate with high-interest store credit cards, unnecessary convenience fees, and cheap knockoff products. The more money you have, the more power you gain, allowing you to buy up houses to drive up property values in your favor, increase your investments, or hire lobbyists to turn the laws in your favor while screwing over the poor… which, despite the exaggerated characters and charming visuals, is sometimes depressingly similar to real life, but such is the place of games that bend toward white collar crime and social commentary.


It’s important to note that you have two different pools of funding. When buying real estate, you’re spending the company’s money, and revenue earned from said businesses goes directly to the company. If you want to make a purchase, you need to spend your own cash. You can gain money by collecting coins dropped from killed enemies or destroyed crates, but the best way to earn money quickly is to increase your salary, which you can do about a third of the way into the game. The company needs to be able to afford to pay you and make acquisitions – so you have to keep it in the black – but otherwise you can give yourself any daily income you like, which cha-chings into your wallet at the end of each day.


To aid you in your efforts are more than a dozen weapons, which may be cycled through or selected from a popup menu. In a nice touch, you can choose to fire in the direction you’re facing, lock on to specific targets, or go fully twin stick so you can move and aim independently. You build up momentum slowly, but your top speed is quite fast, allowing you to close in on enemies, escape danger, and even catch up to most vehicles on foot. And, if you want, you can jump on enemies to stun them, but usually you’ll use that feature to jump over obstacles. Some optional upgrades allow you to do things like increase your running speed, double jump, and absorb more damage.


You can buy ammo if you’re running low, but enemies drop more than enough weapon pickups to keep you stocked as long as you cycle through them as needed. Melee weapons include your bare fists, a baseball bat, and a billy club, as well as a pair of scissors that’s best used to assault salon owners. Projectile weapons include a handgun, submachine gun, assault rifle, rocket launcher, and a Contra-style spread gun.


There’s even a flamethrower, which is great for wrecking property, but it’s pretty easy to catch yourself on fire by accident, which will cause you to take continuous damage until you jump in the water or smash a fire hydrant to put yourself out. Grenades are similarly dangerous, as you can drain half your life with splash damage if you don’t leave enough room between yourself and your target, but they’re great for blowing up vehicles.


Enemies often come at you in large numbers, sometimes with different enemies using different weapon types, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed under a hail of bullets, thus losing health or getting killed outright. If you do take damage, you can restore your health by collecting red hearts dropped by killed enemies or in destructible health crates. That said, there’s virtually no penalty for getting killed. Missions are short and checkpoints are frequent, and getting killed respawns you with full health and all of your weapons and ammo still equipped, requiring very little repeated gameplay.


Police can be fairly relentless in their pursuit should you accidentally bump their cruisers or commit a violent crime in their presence, and they respond with escalating force should you fight back. It’s possible to outrun them if you have a fast enough vehicle – or one equipped with nitrous – but otherwise they’ll hound you across the map, and on-foot officers will shoot at you even on the lowest wanted level. Given the speed of some of the faster vehicles, and low retro-style resolution, you don’t have much time to react, so it’s easy to overdrive the screen and run into vehicles or pedestrians. If you do manage to pick up some fuzz, you can dust it off by driving over special medallions or by getting your car spray painted… or by simply starting a story mission, so there's no need to lose the heat before you can move forward with the main game.


Most missions involve killing enemies, stealing vehicles, and/or destroying property, and this is interspersed with plenty of silly humor. Things change up frequently as you complete all sorts of challenges, ranging from Smash TV-style arena fighting, running over cars in a monster truck, completing some platforming sequences, hauling ass and making huge jumps in a speedboat, and breaking into people’s houses to steal their stuff. And there are numerous optional challenges that allow for bragging rights on the online leaderboards.


You’ll always know where you need to head next for the main missions, as a yellow line appears on the map directing you to the next location, and there’s a subway for fast travel should you need it. Occasionally, you receive calls from your business partners offering suggestions about purchasing property – or destroying it with fire so you can re-zone – or adding modifiers to your businesses that let you bilk customers out of more cash, thus making them more profitable. That said, adding modifiers requires a lot of menu navigation, since there are several multipliers and they must be purchased individually for each of your businesses.


Aesthetically, the game looks like it came straight out of the SNES era, although there’s a lot happening onscreen at once, and a ton of content, that likely would have been too much for the console to handle. The game features some lovely sprite art with bright colors and and cute animations, as well as a day-night cycle, and it avoids any scaling and rotation effects, thus keeping the visuals crisp. The color scheme, Hawaiian setting, and upbeat retro-style soundtrack make the game a bit more lively than the gritty top-down Grand Theft Auto games from which it draws its inspiration, although the lack of zoom does make things a bit cramped when you’re driving at high speeds.



2D CRED
Shakedown Hawaii was developed by VBlank Entertainment, a studio headed by Brian Provinciano. The studio previously released Retro City Rampage, which was developed almost entirely by Brian in his spare time. Matt "Norrin Radd" Creamer composed music for Retro City Rampage and returned to provide music for this game. Prior to this, Brian worked professionally in the game industry on several handheld games, including the Midway Arcade Treasures and Sonic the Hedgehog games on the PSP.


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